[Book Club Review] Scythe – Neal Shusterman

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(Neal Shusterman, 2016) YA-ICON

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own. 

(via Goodreads)

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What I Liked

  • Concept
    • I thought this was a super unique and different story idea. It seems as though Neal does a lot of these fairly unique and interesting dystopian plots that are right up my alley. The idea that a world where mortality has been defeated is just believable enough. It very well could be a not too distant future for us! I think that what Neal does very well, is come up with ideas that are dystopian, but not super barbaric. Meaning, he creates these worlds that slightly mirror our own, making the fictional part feel more like a prediction than made-up.
  • Thunderhead
    • Typically in science fiction and in dystopian novels, the all-powerful and all-knowing AI is never the good guy. In fact, most stories with this theme tend to end with the main characters fighting to destroy it. In this book however, it really does seem as good as it is. Thunderhead is the official governing body of the world. They eliminated poverty, crime, and truly provide an unbiased care for all the (now) immortal people in the world. The one body of people they do not have a hand in are the Scythes, and truthfully, I am really starting to wonder why it is that way. Granted, the name of the second book in the series is Thunderhead, so maybe we’ll get more insight on it in book two, but as of right now, I am very intrigued how this story will unfold.

What I Disliked

  • Characters
    • Neal was doing such a great job of building up these characters and really making you have connections with them. Even the lesser main characters, you start to grow to enjoy, but a little after half-way through the book, the focus shifts from getting to know the characters to a completely political conversation. Then suddenly the entire story is about this political agenda and while the characters are there, and are narrating the events, they start to feel much more distant than they did in the beginning. By the end, I felt more like an outsider looking in, rather than standing among the chaos next to the main character. I missed them at the end, and now I am curious how the next two books will play out.

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Discussion Questions

I actually found an entire “Reading Group Guide” on the publisher’s website for this book. You can see the complete list of those questions here: Scythe Reading Group Guide

I only decided to focus on a couple of these questions. Please note the “Discussion Questions” section of this review may contain SPOILERS. Proceed with caution.


Proceed to Final Thoughts for spoiler-free content!


8. Throughout the novel, Citra and Rowan learn that there is a right way to glean. Do you agree? Can you make a case for this component in this future society?

The girls in Bookmarked talked about this a little bit (see video below) but I happen to agree with them. While I personally would feel like the best way to choose those who are to be gleaned by Faraway’s methods (based on statistics from the moral world), it could be problematic in the long run telling the entire group of Scythes that this was the preferred method. Leaving it open to personal preference and interpretation gives a better chance of variation and “randomness” to the process. The only problem with leaving it up to the individual Scythes is that some will take things to an extreme that may not be looked at as the same “calculated” methods of others. For example, Goddard glean in what he thought was the “appropriate” way. While his methods were horrific and violent, he still followed the commandments of the Scythedom, and was always within his quota. It’s a sticky situation to be frank. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing. I can see the merits on either side, but also where things could go wrong.

3. Curie shares that “scythes provide a crucial service for society.” In what ways are her understanding of her work correct? From what you discovered in the novel, what are the biggest challenges to serving as a scythe? Can you think of any ways that the position offers benefits to the scythe?

This is a seriously loaded question. Let me try to break it down… When Curie shares that Scythes are crucial to this society, I agree! In order for this immortal world to function in the way that it does, the population has to be controlled. Only, how do you control and immortal population? It’s the job no one wants to do, and yet its necessary to ensure the same kind of living conditions for all the citizens. Some of the biggest challenges to being a Scythe are (the obvious) that people fear your presence, and will bend over backwards to ensure they are not the ones to be gleaned. The life of a Scythe is also a seemingly lonely one. They are not allowed to have partners (relationships) and most people fear them, including their family, so really, Scythes can suffer from loneliness. The way in which you choose your sacrifices can also be a challenge because for most Scythes, the act of killing another is not something you don’t really get over. You end up searching for the most humane way to do so and feel defeated when nothing seems to work just right. Both a challenge, and a benefit(?) of being a Scythe is that they are the only ones with the OPTION to die. As for the benefits, those are far and few between.

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Final Thoughts

I liked(?) this book. I guess I have some mixed feelings about it, if I am being honest. I really liked the concept of the story. I thought it was unique and interesting, and really had a story built into it where it felt natural to read about. However, I felt that at some points the book dragged, and got a bit boring at times. I both liked, and disliked that the story got super political. It was infuriating to see how certain things were handled and that some people got away with things they shouldn’t, but such is the way of the world currently. However, the political agenda of the story kind of took over, taking away from the characters. By the end, I just felt like a bystander in the world, as opposed to feeling a deep connection with either of the main characters. I am curious to see how the second book goes though, especially since I haven’t connected as well with the main characters as I was meant to. I feel like the political theme is going to be a major plot pusher through the rest of the series and while I find it interesting, I don’t know if I can read two more books on it. So overall, I found the book as a standalone pretty good! I would just maybe cut out some of it, and focus a bit more on setting up the characters as opposed to the over-arcing political agenda.

If you are interested in seeing the Book Discussion by Bookmarked club, here it is:

2 thoughts on “[Book Club Review] Scythe – Neal Shusterman

  1. I really like Scythe because I think it raises a lot of interesting philosophical questions, though that may sometimes be at the expense of the characters. Actually, I was disappointed because the whole “fight to the death” and romance were very typical YA and I think Shusterman can do better than that. But I find the Thunderhead really interesting. I think it’s actually supposed to be a sort of stand-in for God (or a higher power). (Though it’s also interesting that the Thunderhead itself leaves room for the possibility of a God.) But I do think the whole benevolent omnipotence aspect is supposed to spark discussions about religion.

    Liked by 1 person

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